a thousand petals, a thousand paths

“Ice age!” Jack snapped, turning to stare at Daniel. “Glacier??” The stare turned into a glare and Jack had the gall to sound affronted, as if the three miles of ice below their feet was somehow all Daniel’s fault.

Daniel nodded glumly, his quickly numbing nose encouraging him to consider the thought of a good, rousing fight with Jack. It might not be productive, but it would certainly get them warmed up. “A glacier,” he confirmed, gazing out at an unbroken expanse before them of white, white and more white. Behind them was an equally devoid vista, with the exception of the Stargate and one exceedingly frozen DHD. There was also a deep, yawning chasm that separated them from the DHD and the Gate. Having tumbled through the Gate after telemetry from the MALP revealed no immediate dangers, a thunderous rumble had sliced through the ice and effectively turned them into two teams of two. Sam and Teal’c were now tackling the DHD with a certain desperation.

“Why didn’t the MALP send us that information?” Jack demanded, still looking offended.

Daniel clenched his teeth, both from irritation and a hard shudder of cold. “It just sent back ice, cold and what seemed like structures.”

“They’re not structures,” Jack pointed out, and Daniel’s teeth-clenching became teeth-grinding.

“I know,” he said, after a deep, calming breath. “But they looked like structures. Can I help it if the ice fragmented in just the right, uh, wrong way to look like towers?”

Jack just cursed under his breath and keyed his radio. “Carter!” he snapped.

“Yes, sir!” Carter said after a moment.

“How long is it going to take you to thaw that damn thing out?”

“I don’t know, sir. We’ve got to see if the cold has cracked any of the crystals, and take it from there. It’s possible it could be a while, especially if we need to defrost it. What with just the sterno to warm it up, it could be … well, a while.”

Jack swore again. “Well, do what you can, Carter. The sooner you get that up and running, the sooner you can go home and come back.” It really galled him that he was, in essence, helpless. The crevice was just too deep and just too wide for him and Daniel to get across and join the other two, even if they tied all their ropes together and wished really hard. They’d have to wait for another team to come through, equipped with more useful gear to get them back to the Gate. In the meantime, he and Daniel …

“Daniel and I are going to poke around. Not that I have much hope of finding anything. We’ll keep in radio contact.” He dialed down the volume on his radio and turned to Daniel. “Well?” he said.

Daniel squared his shoulders. “Well, I’m thinking you’re right and that it’s a waste of time,” he said, causing Jack’s mouth to fall open in shock at Daniel agreeing with him. “But we might as well, as you say, ‘poke around.’ Who knows, maybe we’ll find some frozen Ancients.” Jack snorted and pulled his hood closer around his face.

“Frozen Ancients would be good,” he agreed, sliding easily into step with Daniel as they just picked a direction at random and set out, being careful about where they put their feet, and keeping an ear out for the sound of cracking ice. “Maybe some woolly mammoths, too. Like in ‘Quest for the Clan Bear,’” he added.

Daniel shuddered, and Jack knew it wasn’t the cold this time. “’Clan of the Cave Bear,’” Daniel corrected him, and shuddered again. “Tell me you didn’t read that horrible piece of trumped-up pseudo-anthropological bullshit,” he begged.

Jack was immeasurably glad his face was already red from the cold. He simply muttered something like, “I wouldn’t be caught dead reading that crap,” and pushed aside the fact that he had, indeed, read the book in an attempt to try to understand Daniel better. Not only did he not understand Daniel any better, but he’d been bored stupid and incredibly frustrated by the author’s poor writing skills. He’d read fishing magazines that used better structure. As an antidote, he’d watched all three Indiana Jones movies straight through. For the umpteenth time. But it had helped. He got the glasses thing, he got the old rocks thing, he even got the enthusiasm thing. Definitely more illuminating than Quest for the Clan Bear. Cave Bear. Whatever.

Daniel paused in his slog through the knee-deep snow and gazed out over the immense fields of snow and ice. “You’ve got to wonder, though,” he said musingly, pushing his sungoggles up on his forehead, “just how long it’s been since the Stargate’s been here.”

Jack grunted. “Long enough,” he said shortly.

Daniel grinned. “And it’s on top of the ice. So that means the Ancients came here when it was still ice. It’s been ice for millennia. What did they come here for?”

“Skiing?” Jack suggested brightly.

Daniel snorted derisively, then reconsidered. “Well,” he said slowly. “Who knows? I just can’t figure out a sane, plausible reason for the Gate to be here, on top of the ice.”

Jack raised an eyebrow and settled in for a long, rambling thought process that would make James Joyce blush with envy. When Daniel started worrying at a problem like a dog with a bone, he didn’t let it go until he got to a hypothesis that he could at least work with, if not bank on.

While Daniel posited theories to himself, occasionally bouncing comments off Jack like, “Well, I suppose it would depend on where the Gate was in the network, right? No, that wouldn’t matter, because … ,” Jack just put his brain on autopilot, kept an ear cocked for that dreaded pistol-shot of ice disengaging, and trudged along beside Daniel. To be honest, he wasn’t having a horrible time. Granted, it was damn cold and every appendage – yes, every – was trying to crawl as far into his body as possible to keep warm, but it wasn’t horrible, really. No one was shooting at them, no snake-heads were trying to take them as hosts, nothing was about to blow up. It was, by all accounts, fairly enjoyable. Daniel’s cheeks were bright red, his eyes even bluer in contrast, and Jack vaguely appreciated the pleasing combination of colors. And, really, all Jack was hearing was “Gate … ice … Gate … structures … Gate.” He didn’t even have to turn his head to know that those blue, blue eyes would be alight with the thrill of the intellectual hunt, that mobile mouth carrying on about something archaeologically, fantastically, amazingly earth-shattering. He’d smile and nod, make like he was paying attention, then watch his feet and let the flow of words wash over him and pretend he was on a skiing vacation. With a very long hike to the lift. So he was understandably brought up short when Daniel stopped in his tracks and puffed out a cloudy breath of dissatisfaction.

“This is stupid,” he muttered, turning to Jack. “Let’s just head back to the great yawning abyss and wait for the cavalry to come.”

And then he was gone. One second, Jack was about to make one of his inevitable smart-ass comments to a thoroughly chapped-lipped archaeologist when suddenly, the archaeologist was gone, chapped lips and all. Poof. Jack’s brain stuttered back into gear and his head jerked down hard enough for his chin to hit the zipper on his chest with a painful thwhack. At his feet gaped a hole, about ten feet across and still showering ice and snow upon an immobile, bloody shape about twenty feet below. “Daniel!” he shouted, and cringed as the force of his voice sent another cascade of cold crap down on Daniel’s body. Panting, Jack stretched out on his belly, carefully edging closer to the hole until his face was just peering over the rim. “Daniel,” he whispered hoarsely and his eyes closed in fervent thankfulness when the body below stirred.

“Jack,” Daniel called back softly, and rolled onto his back. His ski cap was gone. Blood was running freely from a gash in his forehead, down his face and into his hair, and his nose had obviously been bloodied as well. He coughed and started to sit.

“No,” Jack said, and his voice was tense with urgency for all that it was hushed. “Don’t move. I don’t think that ledge is stable.”

Daniel froze and gently, ever so gently, eased himself back down to a prone position. “It’s getting cold, Jack,” he said softly, blinking against the blood that was getting in his eyes. The pink-cheeked archaeologist was now sheet-white, almost as white as his AF parka and the snow beneath him. “Hurry up and rescue me, would you?”

Daniel was alright for the moment. He wouldn’t get snarky and impatient if he wasn’t. Even as Jack started reaching – carefully – for his rope and pitons, Daniel was slowly – carefully – scooping up a handful of snow, packing it in his palm, and pressing it against the wound on his forehead. In that little place in the back of his mind where he put his freak-outs and worries, Jack was mightily glad that Daniel had the presence of mind to care of that blood flow, because from here the snow underneath Daniel just seemed to be soaked in red.

There was a faint, distant rumble, and Jack and Daniel both froze. It felt like minutes before Jack’s heart started beating again and he kept at his work, moving at a frustrating, snail’s pace.

Rope was tied to a piton, which was hammered – carefully – into ice, the rope unspooled, then threaded through a pulley, the gear coming together in a slow, gentle fashion, all the while murmuring down to Daniel, “Hang on, I’ll be right there.” Daniel didn’t move except to continue to apply ice to his forehead.

Then – carefully – Jack began lowering himself down towards Daniel, inch by agonizing inch until his feet were just hovering above Daniel’s chest. “Okay,” Jack said quietly with a last look up towards the top of the hole where his rope curved out of view. “Slowly, really slowly, sit up, and hang onto my legs.” Daniel did just that, feeling the muscles in his stomach clenching as he rested a hand gently on Jack’s calf, his other arm reaching up to grasp the second leg. Then he slid his feet, oh-so-slowly, under his buttocks and pushed. Gently. The ledge held and Daniel rested his forehead against Jack’s back for a second as the relief flooded him nearly senseless. “Christ,” he groaned.

“Yeah,” Jack concurred. “Now, hang onto my harness, Daniel, wrap your hands through those straps. You’re going to have to help with your feet. Can you do that?” Daniel whispered, “Yeah,” and Jack felt Daniel’s body pressing up against his back as Daniel got his hands wrapped up in velcro. “Stay with me, Daniel,” Jack said firmly, and starting winching up the rope, using his feet to brace both himself and Daniel, feeling Daniel’s legs under his butt and between his knees as Daniel sunk his cleats into the ice-wall and pushed up.

Never had Jack been happier to see a horizon. He flopped like a landed fish onto his stomach, squirmed out of the icy hole, reaching back to pull Daniel after him. Then, still slowly, they slithered down a slight incline on their bellies, down and away from the crevasse. And not a moment too soon. In the far distance, they heard the sound of a Gate being powered up, and all around them, the ice shuddered.

“Carter!” Jack shouted into his radio. “What the hell are you doing?”

The Gate sounds ground down and the shuddering slowly faded into shivers, then into a last jiggle before everything was silent again, except for the wind whistling past their ears.

“Sorry, sir,” Carter whispered in response, her voice clearly horrified. “What happened?”

“You’re shaking the world apart, Carter,” Jack snapped, then rested his forehead on his forearm for a moment. “Carter. Sorry. What’s the status?”

“Well, I think we’ve got the crystals warmed up enough to try to get a wormhole back to Earth. But I’m thinking there’s a problem. If the Gate is causing the ice to shift, two wormholes – one going and one coming – could really shatter this area. It’s probably what separated us in the first place. The second wormhole, after the MALP was sent through, must’ve disturbed the glacier enough to split the ice right after we came through.”

“Carter, you’re right, it is a problem. But we don’t have a choice, now, do we? Daniel’s been hurt and we need to get him medical attention as soon as possible.”
“Is he all right?”

“He will be if you’ll leave.” Dammit. He hadn’t meant to sound like that, but Daniel hadn’t moved since exiting the ice hole except to turn his head towards Jack and breathe. “Give us five minutes to get away from this freakin’ hole in the ground, and then get the hell out of here.”

With that done, Jack shimmied over to Daniel on his stomach and turned the younger man over, pulling him into his lap. He wiped the blood off Daniel’s face and inspected the wound on the forehead. The blood flow had diminished to seepage, thankfully, but Daniel’s gaze as it met Jack’s was unsteady. “Okay, Daniel,” Jack said, patting Daniel’s icy cheek. “Stay with me.”

Daniel’s eyelashes fluttered as he tried to focus. “Where the hell else would I go?” he asked crankily, pushing at Jack’s hand.

Jack’s smile was tight-lipped. Keeping a hand under Daniel’s head, he stood, grunting as he pulled Daniel up after him. “Let’s go, buddy, can you put your arm around my shoulders?” He could. “All right, keep that arm there, okay? Can you walk?”

“I have two feet,” Daniel said fuzzily, and promptly staggered to the left.

“Yeah, you do,” Jack agreed, “two left feet. C’mon, Daniel, we’re going this way,” and he guided Daniel off to the right, heading back towards the Stargate.

When it rains, it pours. Or blizzards. Whatever. They hadn’t gone thirty feet when the rumblings started again, and Jack could distantly see the chevrons lighting up on the ice age Gate. The ice beneath their feet started to tremble again, then shake, and the great sound of enormous slabs of ice tearing themselves apart was ominous. “Hoof it, Daniel!” Jack shouted and pulled the dizzy archaeologist after him.

And down they went. He just had a glimpse of the wormhole pulsing out of the rings before he was standing on air. Well, crap, Jack thought to himself as the ground dropped away from beneath them and all he saw was a sheet of white skimming before his eyes. It seemed like they fell for hours, but it must have been only seconds before he felt the shock of his feet hitting stone, his knees buckling under the impact, then his body as a whole slamming flat onto Daniel. Jack took a moment to pant, struggling for air, rolling off his friend, yet somehow trying to remain still, all at the same time: he didn’t know if they were on another ledge, somewhere worse, somewhere better – he just didn’t know. The ice around them gradually stilled again, and the only sound was the wind far overhead, and his and Daniel’s gasping.

“Okay,” Jack whispered. “We’re done falling. This is good.” Slowly, he turned his head to the left and saw Daniel’s face next to his, eyes closed, lips parted. “Daniel, c’mon, wake up,” Jack said, patting his cheek again. Daniel groaned, opened his eyes, and Jack was concerned to see how large and dark his pupils were, the normal brilliant blue of the iris a mere shadow of color around consuming blackness. “Good man,” Jack said, forcing calm into his voice. “Stay awake, Daniel.”

Daniel just breathed heavily, his gaze skittering across Jack’s face, then beyond him. Then his eyes widened and he pointed with a shaky hand.

Turning his head, Jack saw painted stone, the colors shining through the ice that coated the walls. Yes, they were walls. Below his feet was a smooth, stone … floor. Sitting up with some confidence, Jack looked, gaped, stood, and gaped some more. Daniel, for his part, sat up, clutching at his head, but the befuddled look faded somewhat from his face. “So there ARE structures here,” he slurred and got unsteadily to his feet.

Jack ducked back under Daniel’s arm to help support him. “Yep,” he commented calmly, his eyes intent on Daniel’s face. “Looks like you were right after all, hot shot.”

Daniel snorted and staggered over to peer more closely at the painted wall. His prescription sungoggles were gone, and when Jack searched through Daniel’s front pockets, he found his glasses neatly shattered. Looked like Daniel would be seeing things a bit fuzzily until they got back to the SGC. Daniel didn’t even flinch when he saw his broken spectacles in Jack’s hand and merely asked, “Can you see any writing?”

Even though this was all way more Daniel’s department than his, Jack hadn’t spent seven years (well, eight, if you counted the Ascended year) with the man without picking up a few things. Pulling a hand-pick out of his gear belt, Jack scraped a bit where the ice seemed thinner. “Looks like Ancient,” he said finally.

“You would know,” Daniel said with a faint smile.
“I said it looks like Ancient, Daniel, not that I can read it, not anymore. It’s all gone, remember?” Jack reminded him, tapping at one temple.

All Daniel really had to do was cock an eyebrow and grin, and Jack rolled his eyes. “Shut up,” he said mildly, and went back to scraping at the wall. Not like there was anything else to do. Teal’c and Carter had gone back to Earth and he and Daniel were stuck here until the rescue team got back. At least they were on more solid ground. Unfortunately, it looked like all they had for entertainment purposes was this one wall and a fifteen by fifteen square foot patch of icy stone. Ten minutes of intense poking and scraping and neither Daniel nor Jack were any closer to answering any of Daniel’s questions.

When the amusement value of picking at Ancient walls had paled, Jack tucked his pick away and found a patch of floor farthest from the lip of the edge. He eased Daniel down to a seated position, then sat beside him, pulling him in close with an arm around his shoulders.

“How’re you feeling?” he asked, and Daniel coughed, hard and wrenchingly. The coughing fit went on for a good fifteen seconds, which concerned Jack no end. When Daniel spat up a globule of blood that splattered on the stone at their feet, Jack’s concern deepened into out-right worry. “What the hell,” he said, and turned Daniel to look at him.

The face was still pale, the pupils still dilated, and blood trickled from the corner of Daniel’s mouth. “What hurts?” Jack asked in a tone that brooked no evasion.

“I think I broke a rib or three,” Daniel gasped, wiping at his mouth with the back of a gloved hand.

Levity, he needed levity. “Trust you to break something on a planet with nothing but snow.”

Daniel grunted. “It was your fault,” he said, trying to repress another coughing fit. “You fell on me.”

“Pfft,” Jack said in rejoinder, deciding not to mention his sore elbow – the elbow that, it seemed, had been the cause of Daniel’s broken ribs.

Daniel rolled his eyes again, then put the bloodied glove to his own temple. “I was fine until this second fall,” he stressed. “You fell on me.”

Jack broke out his canteen, got some water into Daniel, then pulled out his and Daniel’s emergency blankets, wrapping them tightly about Daniel’s shoulders. “Just don’t go and die on me, okay?” he said, pulling Daniel close again and trying to get some warmth into Daniel’s shivering body.
Daniel pondered this for a moment, coughing again. “You know,” he said finally, “I don’t think I’ve ever actually died on you. It’s been more of a proximity thing.”

Jack huffed silent laughter into Daniel’s hair and pulled him tighter, tucking Daniel’s head under his chin.

They sat in silence for a while, a silence that was broken every once in a while by Jack poking Daniel to make sure he was still awake. It was a losing battle, though, Jack knew that. Daniel had lost too much blood from the head wound, and the broken ribs didn’t help. He definitely had a concussion and there were, most likely, internal injuries. And if there was anything Jack knew, it was what it felt like to have internal bleeding when stuck on a lump of ice. Why couldn’t they haven’t gotten trapped on a tropical island, for crying out loud? As it was, his butt was numb and his nose had just given up sensory perception altogether.

“Jack,” Daniel said softly, coughing again. He moved his head minutely, and Jack felt the soft hair brush against his cheek. “I gotta take a piss.”

“Good idea,” Jack said at once, and helped Daniel to stand. Hmmm, to the right or the left? Did it make a difference? With gentle hands, Jack guided Daniel over towards the right hand side of their ledge, helped Daniel fumble his zipper open, and the two of them let go over the edge. “Never thought I’d actually get a chance to piss on the Ancients,” Jack said thoughtfully, tucking back in. As soon as his bladder was empty, the heat started going back to the extremities that needed it most – he could almost feel his nose, now. Weird, what the human physiology will do. Daniel sighed with relief, too, and a flush of pink came back into his cheeks.

“Back to our veranda,” Jack said, and within minutes they were tucked back together, this time with Jack under the blankets as well to help keep Daniel warm. “Tell me about what you were like before you came to the SGC,” he said softly to Daniel. Daniel gurgled a protest and tried to burrow further into Jack’s parka, but Jack was having none of that. “You’ve got to stay awake, Daniel,” he said calmly. “You’ve lost a lot of blood, and I can’t have you falling asleep on me. Talk to me.”

Daniel sighed and tried to sit up a little straighter while Jack checked his temperature and breathing under the guise of adjusting Daniel’s position to something approximating comfort. Daniel’s skin was icy, emitting little or no heat. Resting a hand on one thigh, Jack could feel nothing but skin that was cold and stiff. “Dammit,” he whispered, and pulled Daniel even closer, winding his legs through Daniel’s to try to transmit some of his own warmth.

“I was a geek,” Daniel murmured into Jack’s neck, his eyes slowly closing. Daniel’s nose was a frigid button against Jack’s Adam’s apple. “Just like I am now. But I was gangly. Like a giraffe, but with long hair and glasses. I studied a lot.”

“No partying?” Jack asked, smoothing Daniel’s hair and pulling his hood up around his ears.

“Sometimes,” Daniel sighed in answer. “Sometimes, I’d let it rip. There’s a couple of nights that I don’t remember. Much.”

“You dog, you,” Jack commented, a smile pulling at his mouth. “Were you a ladies’ man?”

Daniel snuffled into his neck with amusement. “Not quite. But I got some … experiences, shall we say. I got an idea of what to do.” His voice trailed off for a bit, and when he spoke again, his voice was almost dreamy. “I was in love with the world when I was in college. I felt free, I wasn’t trapped anymore. No more trappings. I loved everything I was doing.”

“And I’m betting you got some lovin’ right back,” Jack said confidently.

Daniel’s only answer was a snort.

“So how many were there?” Jack asked, his brows furrowing. This was a side of Daniel he’d never thought about, what he must’ve been like when he was finally free of the foster homes and allowed to start choosing his own way in the world, to let that incredible mind loose on the sacred halls of academia.

“Four,” Daniel replied, and elaborated, almost chanting, “There was Jane, and Holly, and Jesse, and Fred.”

Jack was more than startled. “Fred?”

“Winifred,” Daniel said, his voice softening even more. Jack was starting to wonder just how much of Daniel was in the here and now, and shifted again, pulling Daniel up and making him open his eyes.

“Ahhh, Fred,” Jack repeated, and felt a vague ping of something like jealousy. Huh? “Lovely ladies all?”

“I am nothing if not a man of excellent taste,” Daniel said agreeably, and patted Jack’s arm clumsily, letting his gloved hand rest on the layers of cloth actually separating their skin. Again, huh?

“If you call that horrible duffle coat you used to have an indication of taste. What else did you do in college?” Jack asked, his curiosity more than piqued. Honestly, he couldn’t conceive of a long-limbed and laughing Daniel Jackson hitting on the ladies with such apparent success.

“What do you think, Jack?” Daniel sounded more like himself for a moment. “I studied. Lots of it. Went to bookstores, went to concerts, the usual stuff.”

“Sounds kind of boring,” Jack said, almost wistfully. It sounded so - normal. And while he knew Daniel’s life had been anything but normal, by his own straight-laced, militaristic definition, it still sounded so attractive, so soothing.

“Yeeahhh,” Daniel drawled. “A little, I suppose, if you don’t like books and concerts and coffee.”

“Aww, and here I was thinking you were a little hippy, with all your free love.”

“Nope,” replied Daniel, and there was a long pause again. “Not a hippie. Lots of free love. But no hippies. I wore a sweater vest.” His voice trailed off on a deep sigh that sounded like a preface to falling into deep sleep.

“No!” Jack said sharply, jerking Daniel in his arms.

“Ow!” Daniel complained, his eyes flying open as he focused enough to glare at Jack. “That hurt!”

“Good,” Jack said flatly, jerking Daniel again until they were both ramrod straight against the Ancient wall. “If I have to smack you around a few times, Daniel, I will. You are not falling asleep.”

Daniel’s head was already drooping. “Ooo, Jack smacking,” he said with a mouth that sounded like it was full of mush. “That sounds right up your alley. Lots of smackin’.”

Jack’s eyebrows lurched together. Was that a slam? “What do you mean by that?” he asked testily.

“C’mon, Jack,” Daniel said, his head wobbling up so he could look Jack straight in the eye. “It’s not like you’re a U.N. diplomat, for heaven’s sake. You shoot things up, make ‘em go boom.”

Jack was torn between anger and amusement. “Make ‘em go boom?” he repeated incredulously.

“Badda-bing, badda-boom,” Daniel elaborated placidly. Blood was starting to trickle down his face again from the wound in his forehead, and a little more had edged out of the corner of his mouth.

How long did it take for someone to come back with a bunch of rope, for God’s sake? A quick check at his watch showed him that Carter and Teal’c had only been gone for … an hour. And he knew it would take a little more time than that to get a full team together with all the equipment needed, for them to come back through the Gate – God, don’t let the ice shift again – find them, get them out … while Daniel quietly bled, inside and out, and his mind wandered off to some Lesion Fields where Jack could not follow. Wait, lesion couldn’t be right. Why didn’t he ever really listen when Daniel was babbling ad nauseum about mythology in their daily briefings?

“Yes,” he said, mopping at the blood. “I make things go boom. It’s true. It’s what I do.”

“But you’re exceedingly good at it,” Daniel said hesitantly, as if not sure that Jack would take it as a compliment.

“Well, thank you, Daniel,” Jack said, deciding that he should take it as a compliment, for both their sakes. Anything else right now would mean an argument and that would just be too … warming. Ha. Argument it was. “Thank you so much for pointing out my complete lack of intelligence. So I’m nothing more than a grunt to you, is that it?”

“Whah?” Daniel gasped, and he really focused for the first time since he’d gotten his head whacked. “I never said that!”

“You just did!” Jack pointed out untruthfully. Red was flooding into Daniel’s cheeks, sitting on those high cheekbones in two burning spots of color. “I’m the muscle of the team, that’s what you’re saying. I’m just along because someone has to make all the macho manly decisions and that’s not your area of expertise.” Oops. Did he push too far with that one?

Daniel gasped and he pushed away from Jack – at least tried to, but Jack was keeping him in close quarters with arms and legs entwined under the emergency blankets. “Only you, Jack, would go down that path of complete and utter misconception,” he said angrily.

“So now you’re calling me a liar?”

“God!” Daniel shouted and succeeded in pushing away from Jack hard enough to topple right over onto his side. More ice and snow drifted down. Daniel coughed, deeply, and more blood decorated the Ancient floor.

Jack closed his eyes. He was really not doing a good job of this. He was trying to keep Daniel awake and warm the best ways he could, but he seemed to be succeeding only in injuring Daniel further. “Come ‘ere,” he said, repentant, and pulled Daniel back to him, wrapping them both up again. “Warmer?” he asked.

Daniel inhaled to say something – something razor-sharp, Jack was sure – then stopped himself. “You son of a bitch,” he said finally, and Jack could feel his body shaking with laughter.

“Well, it worked for about ten minutes,” Jack said cheerfully as he pulled out his canteen and got some more water into Daniel.

“Yeah,” Daniel breathed, and his head settled on Jack’s shoulder. “Play twenty questions with me, Jack.”

He was asking for help. He knew how desperate his situation really was. Jack pushed on the door in his mind where the freak-outs and worries were trying to stage a prison break. Taking a deep, controlling breath, Jack said, “Allrighty. I’m thinking of something.”

“Animal?”

“Depends on which planet.”

Daniel chuffed amusement. “Okay, so it’s not an Earth animal?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Daniel chuffed again, too familiar with Jack and his weird sense of humor. “You suck at this. It’s Teal’c.”

“Damn.” They were silent for a few minutes while Jack tried to come up with something clever, but all he could think about was how shallow Daniel’s breath was getting. “Daniel, so help me, if Oma shows her glowy white ass around here, I’m going to have some very firm words to say to her.”

“Now that’s a smackdown I’d like to see,” Daniel said dreamily, “’cause you’d kick the everlasting crap out of her.”

Jack grinned down at him, a gloved finger rising to stroke a pale cheek. “You bet your sweet ass I would.”

“Sometimes … I wish you had, the first time,” Daniel said quietly.

Jack stilled. “What?”

“There was no way my body would have healed. I know that. It was the best thing I did, going.” A long pause. “Dying. But I didn’t want to. Not then.” Daniel’s voice grew fainter. “Not ever. But I was tired, so tired … of trying to find my place. I got so tired of searching.” A longer pause, a deep breath, then, “At least … by Ascending … I was still … here … and could keep … ” A big sigh, then, “trying … ”

“Ah, hell, Daniel.” Jack pulled Daniel’s head closer to his and rested his cheek on the soft crown of hair. Daniel didn’t answer, his breath barely escaping his cold lips.

“No,” Jack said flatly. “No.” He pulled Daniel up tighter, put his fingers to his neck to feel for a pulse. It was there, but slow, weak. “No, damn you. You keep trying. Try now. Try here. Daniel!” No response. “Daniel! By God, if you die, I’m coming after you one way or another. Do you hear me? You keep trying. Come on!” He slapped at Daniel’s cheeks, once, twice, and Daniel stirred briefly. “You keep trying, goddammit. Because this time, no, I won’t let you go without a fight.” And it was like the bottom fell out of his heart, and he knew. He didn’t know how to name it exactly, didn’t know what it specifically meant, but the fear and panic that rose in his throat spurred him to vocalize what he hadn’t even considered a minute before. “I can’t do this without you, Daniel,” Jack whispered. “I can’t. Not again. You go, I go. I can’t … I can’t not have you in my life again. The first hundred times nearly killed me. But this time, if you do this to me again, I’ll … I can’t do this without you.” And it became a mantra youkeeptrying don’tyoustoptrying ican’tdothiswithoutyou youkeeptrying, over and over, his left-hand fingers on Daniel’s carotid artery, the other fingers rubbing briskly up and down his body, trying to coax warmth back into the cold, slack limbs. Youkeeptrying youdon’tstoptrying don’tyouleavemeagain. Over and over, stuttering and tripping on the words, frantic, panicked, still rubbing, trying to keep life in the body. “I need you,” Jack whispered.

The pulse point below his freezing fingers thumped, strengthened. Steadied. The skin warmed to his touch. And Jack dropped his head to his chest and cried for the first time since Charlie had died. 

.:.

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